People often say, “I’d like to do [INSERT COUNTRY NAME HERE].” In fact, I probably have – a long time ago. But to ‘do’ a country, is impossible. What does that term even mean? Have you ‘done’ a country by simply visiting it? Do you qualify as ‘doing’ a country by spending a certain amount of time in it, or visiting a certain number of places? It reminds me of standing in the playground as kids and trading Pogs: “Got, got, got, got, NEED!”
When I was eighteen years old, looking for an adventure, I embarked upon a round the world trip, first making my way to the Cook Islands, a collection of fifteen small islands with a population of less than eleven thousand people – outside school, I had spent years working in Woolworths (for £3.52 an hour), Waitrose, Sainsburys, and various building sites to afford this trip, and I was to spend six full weeks on the islands, including my nineteenth birthday. Did I ‘do’ the Cook Islands? No I didn’t, because to do something and have it done (“Yeah, I did [INSERT COUNTRY NAME HERE]”), surely you would have to see everything and meet everyone? This is impossible.
There are other places I visited on that same trip, such as New Zealand, where I travelled by vehicle and for a month, explored place after place, as many as I could fit in. Yet still I saw so little of what was on offer. You can spend a lifetime exploring a single country and never ‘do’ it.
I will point out however, I loved my RTW trip (my first time away from home) and I hold fond memories of it. However, the times that I remember most fondly, were the times that I slowed it down and took my time to appreciate the places I was in – it is not always necessary to rush from one location to the next – the grass is not always greener.
There is something inherently exciting about browsing the internet and booking tickets to a new destination – I still get excited by such a thing. And with the way the world has developed, it takes only two and a half hours to fly from Istanbul to Venice – a journey that took me several days of hitchhiking back in 2013. But by taking the fast route, we sometimes forget to take the time in the place that we have come to visit. Hitchhiking around Europe taught me to appreciate not rushing from place to place – the journey becomes part of the experience. Cycling and rafting taught me this even more. The places I went on these journeys were often places that you will never have heard of – places I don’t even remember the names of. But in my mind, the images glow bright. There may be a hundred ways to cross an ocean, even more on land – choose one that suits you. By going slow, wandering an idle path, and not rushing from place to place, you start to feel at peace with the world.
Recently, I landed in Iceland by plane – skipping everything in between Stansted and Reykjavik. However, once there, I walked across the country with my brother – a walk of around four hundred kilometres. We took it slow and we loved every moment – except the moments filled with blisteringly cold winds and snow!
Try taking the slow path next time and not worrying too much about where you end up – you just might like it.
Life is not a race. If it was, I wouldn’t want to be the one to finish first.